Thursday, Oct. 17, one of your Journal Record employees, Scott, a very humble-spoken young man, called my wife and I at 9:30 a.m. and told me about a luncheon on Friday, Oct. 18, being held in your honor, Les, for your retirement. The luncheon was scheduled to be held in the Journal Record’s Hamilton office.
“Retirement?” I yelled. It was more like errr, awkkk (one of Les’ famous comic book responses to a fearful happening). Just ask Scott. “What on Earth is going on at the paper, son?” And why, and to me, it was the “why” that gave me the most shock, trying to grasp that news that will go with me until Jesus calls me home.
“Retirement,” I argued with Pam, my very level-headed wife said, and certainly not the sporadic-thinking that I have exhibited over the years. “Pam, there is something going on. Les must be engineering one of his best-ever practical jokes.”
And as people in and around Hamilton will agree that Les did on occasion, Les pulled some of the best pranks that this area will ever know. I should know. Les pulled a lot of his special brand of pranking on me and at first, I was a nervous wreck dreading to go to work not knowing what he had planted (in the newspaper office) or some skeleton hung in one the darkrooms long before the Journal Record went digital.
Frankly, Les, if you know him, will shout “Amen” when I say that he was one of the most-complex people that you will ever know. And the most-loving at the same time. I know. It took me surviving several of his pranks over the years to know that he did love me (which, if you ask my wife, Pam, was and is a tough job) as well as those names that I will mention below.
Les did not prank anyone unless he didn’t care for them. I know. I was the recipient of some of his best pranks, including the one he pulled on me Oct. 20 (via phone) when I was home (not feeling up to going to church), which at first, “he” was doing a good job of talking like he was a senior woman, “Myrtie Peacock,” asking me to give her a ride from Burger King and taking her sack of burgers with her.
Early on, I bit on his prank like a hungry bass. But the longer he kept talking, it occurred to me that Les was enjoying something he dearly-loved: Pranking a good friend. And this I know. Les did not prank anyone who he did not care for. Les cared a lot about his friends, me included. Took me years to know that one important fact.
I don’t remember what year, but Les finally convinced me to go to the doctor for a checkup. I’d never been to the doctor--ever. The late Dr. Charlie Pyle was going to see me in his office adjacent to the Hamilton hospital. Little did I know, but Les called ahead and spoke to the nurses, who gathered him one of Dr. Charlie’s lab coats, one of those mirror devices you wear around your head, a mask over his mouth and a syringe which looked like you would use on a horse.
Pam was with me, standing beside me while I was seated on the end of the examination table. The nurse told us I would first be seeing a specialist, then Dr. Charlie would come in for his examination.
Suddenly, the door burst open and this “doctor” came flying in, muttering under his breath in tones and language--I had no idea what he was saying. My eyes got wide--really wide, Les told me later--when the “doctor” came rushing up to me, still muttering words I couldn’t understand, and the gigantic shot needle pointed toward me!
Pam wasn’t handling the situation much better than I was, and Les told me later he thought I was going to pass out on the table, so he pulled off his surgical mask and started laughing to no end. Yep, another great prank!
I began listing as many of Les’ good friends that I could think of, and even came back to add more, including former co-workers, but the more I thought about it, I quickly gave up on that idea, because I knew, despite my very best efforts and good intentions, I would overlook some of you. Believe me, he has a lot of good friends. And you all mean a lot to him, but when you go back to 1979 and try to compile such a list, it’s just about impossible! Many are still with us, but others have past on.
I note the late Marj Harris, who told Les when she went to work for him, “I do hard news. Don’t ask me about soft news,” and she was a woman who meant what she meant. Another is Bill Nowlin, who arrived in town a few months ahead of Les and they’ve been best of friends ever since. Les always loved the late Jerry Brown, nationally renowned potter, and his wife, Sandra, who is still turning the wheel, and her daughter, Tammy Wilburn Rawls, and all their family members. I know he still stays in touch with former sports editors Barry Burleson, Shane Herrmann, Derek Trimm and Anthony Robbins, and other fellow workers such as Ginger Avery, Susie Sims and Cindy Moore Wakefield. Another former sports editor, Chris Cook, who is now the Winfield City School System superintendent of education, and his brother, Ron, mom Claire Jean, and dad Ed, are also among his many, many friends, as well as Marion County Superintendent of Education Ann West. That Les, he’s always liked education. The Ellis Brothers--Ronnie, Hamilton Aggie football historian Roger and Paul, who Les called upon his climb back into coaching, returning as Muscle Shoals High School’s head baseball coach.
Well, there’s no need to go on. I can’t do it without leaving someone out and no, I truly don’t know all of his friends, but needless to say, there’s more than a heaping helping of them.
Les loves people; he always has. This won’t change.
I can tell you that right now, I am exhausted, and it is no surprise that my 65-year-old mind is almost shot.
Many people get this way at age 65. A much-needed pat-on-the-back, good friend and brother that I have never had, Les Walters, who, I might add, was there every time when I would be admitted to the Northwest Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo and I think that was four times to support and encourage me to “get well now,” as he said this. No jokes, please.
But “the” most-painful event for Pam and me was when our daughter, Angie, passed away on Feb.11, 2016, and in his typical fashion of looking at the needs of someone else, he immediately contacted his friends, including those at First Baptist Church, and prayed for Pam and me, and it was and is very appreciated.
But this letter to the editor is just one of the most-priceless memories that I have been blessed with a truckload of his delightful, comical and serious memories was at each time’s news of my being treated in the hospital, Les did not wait to pray for me. In fact, he contacted his (and my) friends at First Baptist Church, and I can only be grateful first, to Jesus Himself, and the prayers of Les, his wife, Sheri, and sons, Sloan and Chance.
Philosophical, as you were prone to say, I found it more of an adventure to work for you and in doing so, I am not going to be mushy, but I am the better for it. I will be the first to admit that Les did have the gift of gab, but through all of his clean humor, he was one of the best listeners that I have ever known. He and I would be working and he would mention an ad that I had not finished, and Les would fire up his sharp memory and to make a long story short, thanks to Les, I got the ad, finished it, and thanked him. In the latter days of the time that I worked for him, he was more of a listener than a talker. When this would happen, I would always ask him what was bothering him. He would laugh and reply, you can learn more by keeping the mouth shut and ears open. And I have to admit it, he was right.
In 2003, when I went down for the count and found myself unable to work, I would visit Les when I was able to drive and like now, we would rehash and relive almost every memory that Les and I had either pulled or to help pull many clean pranks. Me? I learned from the best: Les.
So Les, my brother that I never had, dear friend, ally and my well-respected newspaper general manager, Hamilton citizen, American and member of Hamilton First Baptist Church, my sincere prayers and thoughts also for your wonderful wife, Sheri, sons Sloan and Chance (who I watched grow up from children), Sloan’s wife and your daughter-in-law, Erin, and their children and your grandsons, Thad and Crosby. May God always smile at your very footsteps and the work of your hands.
These few passages from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 says it best:
1. There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2. a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3. a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4. a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5. a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
What a ride we had. What a ride...
Sincerely, Kenny Avery,
P.O. Box 201, Hamilton, Alabama 35570
P.S. Unless I change my mind, this will be the last Letter to the Editor that I will ever send to be published. Not that I am harboring any form of resentment, it is just because that Les and I had a very special friendship in whatever ideas that I would write, I would send them to Les, and he was the mastermind that made my columns and stories look and read sensible. Truth is truth. No one will miss Les more than me.